‘The Cellist’ revisited, or a prayer for performing arts
Updated: Aug 24, 2020
Live performance is by nature nostalgic. Our excitement, passion and emotion are being stored in our memory that belong to the past, as soon as the show is over. Even with the same cast and line-up, it can never be repeated with exactly the same quality – it’s not coming back.
Either as a performer or as an audience, we currently miss live stage experiences more than ever, painfully praying for the ‘normality’ in the performing arts to come back soon.
In this nostalgia, I can’t help recalling the most memorable performance I’d seen before our world drastically changed - ‘The Cellist’ by The Royal Ballet. Although the show itself is over, this production as a memoir still inspires me in terms of our longing for performing arts.
‘The Cellist’ is an homage to the extraordinary British Cellist, Jacqueline Du Pré, whose life was sadly cut short due to multiple sclerosis. Although her life story may sound tragic, this emotionally poetic ballet, created by Cathy Marston, rather focuses on the aspect of celebration – a love towards, or even with, the music.
At first, the Cello is asleep. ‘He’ wakes up as the orchestra unfolds ‘his’ sound, then meets Jacqueline as a little girl. Here, I call the Cello ‘he’ because the physical elegance and profoundness of the instrument are beautifully embodied by a male ballet dancer.
Jacqueline is literally carried away by the dancing Cello. In spirals of movements, this blessed relationship entails to her professional career. Her body floats with his sound wave, her mind travels through his soundscape. Her soul resonates with him and the vibration is mutual – the Cello isn’t an object, he becomes a part of her, and her guardian.
It is therefore heart-breaking to witness her symptoms develop. Her fingers can’t hold the bow, her arms can’t embrace the body of the Cello. Her frustration, anger, and despair hurt not only herself but also her beloved instrument – she pushes him away, bangs him to the floor… Physically crying with his body, the Cello still longs for her arms to hold him, play him, stroke him…
Tragedy, but not the end
In her inevitable retirement, the Cello gently and continuously spins around her, as if he is with her forever. His music embraces her. This poignant ending isn’t just sad. You would even feel a certain childlike, nostalgic gentleness floating in the air, like twinkles, like blessings.
This mesmerising ballet wasn’t meant to be an accurate biography of someone in particular, but rather a celebration of the life of an artist. In this sense, this poetry is universal. Though her talent was stolen by her illness, her music didn’t die away. Our opportunities might've been robbed by the pandemic, but remember - we still have our body and mind to pursue our artistry. Isn’t it a blessing?
Jacqueline du Pré played the Cello as if she was dancing with it, and the music celebrated her life. Maybe we aren’t at her level of genius, and maybe our return to stages still remain unknown. Even so, as far as we cherish our lives with music and dance, our love story with arts isn’t necessarily tragic – so we need to believe.
*I watched ‘The Cellist’ in The Royal Opera House on 28th February 2020 and 2nd March 2020, as well as the online premier on 29th May 2020.
Choreography: Cathy Marston
The Cellist: Lauren Cuthbertson (also danced by Beatriz Stix-Brunell)
The Instrument: Marcelino Sambé (also danced by Calvin Richardson)
The Conductor: Matthew Ball
The Cellist – Pas de trois (Cuthbertson, Ball, Sambé, The Royal Ballet)
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